The idea that the Internet favors the oppressed rather than the oppressor is marred by what I call cyber-utopianism: a naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to admit its downside.
– Evgeny Morozov interview in “The Tunisia Twitter Revolution That Wasn’t”, Mother Jones, 27 January 2011
Morozov highlights two key points that should be remembered when discussing the role of internet, and particularly social media, in fostering democratic politics:
- Internet is double-edged – The internet does not necessarily weaken authoritarian regimes. It provides a more efficient manner of organising information and communication which can also used against pro-democracy activists.
- The problem isn’t information asymmetries – The most important point made is that access to information through the internet, while often helpful, will not necessarily or automatically cause greater political participation or activism. This point I feel applies to both autocratic and liberal democratic states.
This isn’t to say that the internet, and social media, can’t play a role in political change. However, we should be realistic as to what it can achieve and what its dangers are, even in a liberal democracy.